Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Notary

Few people in Ukraine or Russia hold a position of greater authority than the notary. Even a mafia boss might not believe an underling has performed a hit if he doesn't report back with the proper documentation.

When I was living in Kharkov, a professor at the university where I taught was trying to start a marriage agency with a lawyer he knew. He approached me when he learned I was an American, and asked if I would write a letter on his behalf to the owner of an American-owned agency. He was seeking a business relationship, maybe a little advice, and so I dashed off a letter, thinking that would be the end of it. But my Russian-speaking Ukrainian friend received it, he said, "Should we get it notarized, do you think?" This was a man out of a Kafka novel. Slight and thin, mousey face, chain smoker, a nervous laugh and bureaucratic voice. "No," I told him, I didn't think we needed to get it notarized. But he was quietly persistent, sure it would probably be best if a notary was present to see me sign beneath my printed name. "The guy we're writing is from Houston," I tried. "He's not going to know the difference."

But it was a losing proposition. A few nights later, I met my friend on the corner of Pushkinskaya and Bazhanova, piled into a cab with him, and was driven deep into the night to a part of town I didn't yet know. When we arrived, we stood outside in the cold, waiting for his partner to arrive. My friend smoked cigarettes, apologizing for the delay. Then his future partner, the lawyer, was pulling up in a chauffered Lada, and the three of us were moving inside.

The notary was not yet available. Either she wasn't here or she was in a back room. A secretary showed us to a waiting area. Plush leather furniture. Magazines on a glass coffee table. Flowers everywhere. A TV going. We waited. My Ukrainian friend held the documents in a plastic folder: one copy in Russian, another in English. "We'll need them both notarized," he said.

Then the notary appeared, a regal woman in her fifties with chamber of commerce hair and flecks of gold on her neck, wrists and lobes. She looked at our paperwork. Spoke with the two people I'd come with, looked at me not once. No, no, no, she said. This was the jist of it. No, no, no -- she couldn't possibly notarize this, as it was a personal letter. My friends argued. They stated their case. This letter was supposed to initiate a business relationship. It was very much not personal business which was being conducted on this page. But no, I was an individual, not a business, she and they and even I could very clearly see that, and so she could not give us her stamp. "Tell her I'm a professional writer," I said, liking the sound of that. "Would that help? Say the letter is part of my work." But no, it didn't matter. The lady stood. The court was cleared. We had to go.

My Ukrainian friend and the lawyer were crushed. They took me apologizing back to the cab, and it was only a week or two later, at the lawyer's office, that we met with a second notary to try again. This time, tea was served all around, and the notary was offered chocolates. Everyone wore black leather but me. The notary looked at the documents. He had required that the letter be in Ukrainian, not my friend's native Russian. "This is an official document," he had explained over the phone. But now in the office he pointed out mistakes in my friend's use of the Ukrainian language. He could not stamp the letter until this was fixed, and this, and this here. My friend worked hurriedly on the computer, trying to rectify the mistakes. I sat with the pen, waiting to give my signature. More tea was served. The lawyer begged my patience. The notary said he would be back. I was given more chocolate. And then fifteen, thirty minutes later, the new sheet was printed out and the notary was back and I was moving my pen across the page. The notary observed it all, then moved his ledger book before my face. He pointed his finger here, then here; my signature followed.


I was reminded of this the other morning, when my wife asked if she should get a letter of recommendation notarized. I said her boss' signature would be enough, but after sending the SMS message I felt a shudder of anxiety -- my god, she's right, that needs to be notarized. Evidence I've lived in Ukraine.

Then this evening, while browsing the Russian Women Discussion message board, I came across this, a list of things a poor man must do in order to have his divorce certificate recognized by the Uzbek government:

1. Have a local notary public notarize the document (divorce certificate).

2. Have the county clerk certify the notary's authority.

3. Have the Secretary of State of the appropriate state certify the county's authority.

4. Have the State Department's Certification Division certify the State's authority.

5. Have the Uzbek Embassy or U.S. Embassy in Tashkent certify the State Department's authority.

As the man cannot legally marry in Uzbekistan until he proves that he is free and unencumbered by any previous marriage, number six in this list could very well read, "Marry a woman from Tennessee. It'd be easier."

And number seven? "Couldn't hurt if she's a notary."


Consul-At-Arms said...

I feel certain you're on the road to recovery.

The wife is stateside now, I hope?

The Ranger said...

Did you notice that the notary's charge different amounts of money for their service ? I was at the point that I had no idea if it was a service charge or a bribe.

The Author said...

A couple more days, Consul. Close enough to count the hours. Very soon. And very excited about.

Snowy said...

I am sorry but this web page can not be notorised. It's Kharkiv not Kharkov. Married life must have settled you down your not blogging as much. Say hi to the better half :) Stay away from those Big Mac's and that American Starbucks coffee in the glass gug served at the dinner :)

Snowy said...

ps They have just pulled down the Sumksya Market :( I think the Mayor wants to build a new supermarket on the site.

mandy dawn said...

stephan, am on nathan's computer and saw the link. i read here occassionally and am always happy for having done so. in case you'd like to know, i am currently awaiting a background check to become a california notary. we can notarize documents in languages we cannot read, so long as no one has told us the document contains intentionally false information.